I’m really pleased to share my live conversation with Chris Fussell, former Navy SEAL and Chief of Staff to General Stanley McChrystal, who was himself in charge of Special Operations during the Iraq War.
Chris is now the President of the McChrystal Group and spoke onstage at Responsive Conference 2016. He is the first person I look to about how we can respond to crisis and we spent this webinar with the Responsive.org community discussing how people around the world can organize amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic.
I hope you find this useful!
If you are interested in more from Chris, here is the talk he gave at the first annual Responsive Conference.
The Coronavirus Pandemic has the entire world in an uproar. In this blog post, I am including my personal reflections on resilience and leadership, but first and foremost, please make sure that you and your loved ones are staying safe.
The world has changed in the last couple of weeks more quickly and more abruptly than it ever has before. These chaotic times call for resilience and leadership more than ever.
By resilience, I mean the ability to get back up when you are knocked down; the ability to redirect when you’ve gone offcourse.
I have been following the Coronavirus Pandemic for about four weeks and have been asking my parents (both over 70) to prepare. A few days ago, upon finding that they had left their home unexpectedly, I got angry. Resilience means coming back to the conversation hours later more calmly and communicating even more lovingly.
Resilience is a learned experience and takes practice. Have patience with yourself and your loved ones. Keep practicing.
I recently read this tweet by General Stan McChrystal, the 4 star general responsible for special operations during the Iraq War. (Also, a great guy.)
As we lead through this time of crisis, leaders are more important than ever. Communicate relentlessly, match your internal operating pace with that of your external environment, and continue to reiterate what ‘winning’ looks like to your organization.
Leadership, whether with our families, teams, or in the highest levels of government, has never been more important. But what does that mean for me and you? Stan’s idea of intentionally matching our internal states with the needs of the circumstances resonates for me, especially as someone who is often operating at a very different speed than those around me.
In the last week, I’ve been alone at home, reading too much Twitter, and talking with family and friends. But in the past I’ve also been in the midst of medical crises. There are times that call for adrenaline and urgency; there are times where it is more effective to slow down. Practice matching your internal tempo to the needs of your situation!
And what does “winning” look like? For me, that is making sure that my family stays in lockdown (please don’t leave the house!). It means checking in with my team and making sure they are staying safe and sane. It means communicating calmly and intentionally to the communities I’m a part of or managing.
The clearer we can be internally, the more clearly we can support those we hold dear, our communities, and the world.
Welcome back to the Robin Zander Show, and an entirely different world. The Coronavirus Pandemic has the entire world in an uproar.
In today’s podcast, I have a conversation with David Hanrahan, CHRO of Eventbrite, about taking a large company entirely remote in under 2 weeks, parenting tactics when so many of us are working from home, changes to the events business, and maintaining mental health.
We keep our conversation short and tactical sharing specific tools and practices that can help you at home.
If you want more from David Hanrahan, you might enjoy his talk at Responsive Conference 2019 on Mental Health at Work.
My guest today is the President of Pepsi Global Foods, Simon Lowden. Simon has been the driving force over the last 10 years at turning Pepsi into a forward-thinking and self-iterating company. He is incredibly thoughtful when it comes to marketing and Responsive organizations, and in today’s conversation, we dive deep into some of the philosophies that he has implemented over the span of his career. He offers tactical advice on how to work well with teams and build a future focused organization. I hope you enjoy!
Podcast Notes: 3:00 How Simon found Responsive 5:00 Building a team 7:45 Why Pepsico brought Simon on 10:45 How Simon stays current in marketing 12:45 Balancing the internal politics of the organization with staying fresh with consumer attention 15:45 Marketing platforms on the rise 18:15 Plastics Project 21:15 Three local rules of the Plastics Project 25:30 Simon mentions: If by Rudyard Kipling 26:00 Simon’s thoughts to the Responsive community 28:00 Steps towards being plastic-free 31:30 Begin with trust
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Michael Roderick to discuss brand strategy and his work around creating “referrable brands.” This conversation covers a wide range of topics related to brand strategy, including his AIM model which stands for Accessibility, Influence, and Memory. We apply this framework to a variety of business examples, including my own efforts at Zander Media. I hope you enjoy!
In this episode, my friend, Daniel Stillman, interviews me for his podcast, The Conversation Factory. We discuss how to ask better questions, the value of loving, non- judgmental questions, and my story.
I hope you enjoy today’s podcast as Daniel flips the script and interviews me on the art of asking questions.
This is a talk that I gave at the HR Transform conference in Las Vegas to the Heads of HR of some of the fastest growing tech companies you have definitely heard of. The context for my talk was storytelling. I pulled on my experience at Robin’s Cafe and Responsive Conference to help others tell their story.
In today’s world, it’s not enough to just have a great company culture – you have to share that story with the world.
The aspects that make your organization unique create incredibly compelling narrative. It has never been easier to get your ideas out – to your company, your customers, and the broader world.
Find the reason you do the work you do, and share that out with the world.
Our most trusted and important institutions – in business, healthcare, government, philanthropy, and beyond – are struggling. They’re confronted with the fact that the scale and bureaucracy that once made them strong are liabilities in an era of constant change.
Welcome back to another episode of the Robin Zander Show! I’m thrilled to share today’s interview with Aaron Dignan, author of the new book Brave New Work, as well as founding member of Responsive Org.
In today’s interview, Aaron and I discuss his work with The Ready, supporting the growth of some of the biggest companies in the world, how he came to co-found Responsive Org, and the idea of an organization’s “Operating System” – the driving principles and practices which shape an organization.
We dig into two specific aspects of the OS Canvas: strategy and compensation. How does any company – from AirBNB to Robin’s Cafe develop and hone a strategy that supports the company, and its people. But then, more tactically, Aaron lays out specifics approaches to compensation and pay that decrease stress and uncertainty at work and allow everyone to focus on doing work that matters.
I hope you enjoy this conversation with Aaron Dignan!
2:20 How Aaron found himself looking to change the future 7:00 OS Canvas 10:00 Strategy 14:00 Correcting course to find control 17:00 Finding purpose and serving that purpose 20:00 Compensation 22:15 Compensation model for new companies 27:00 Inspiring companies: Everlane, Inspiral, Bridgewater – Mentions Principles by Ray Dalio 31:00 Returning choice back to the local environment 34:00 Amazon and Whole Foods 40:00 Future of education – Adam Pisoni podcast part 1, and part 2 42:00 Tactical takeaways 45:00 Find Aaron: Brave New Work The Ready Twitter: @aarondignan
Larissa Conte is a systems coach, ceremony designer, and rites of passage guide through her business, Wayfinding. She also works with The Ready doing organization transformation to fuel the future of work. Larissa specializes in facilitating transformation and alignment across scales to foster power that serves.
With deep experience in the energetics and mechanics of transformation, Larissa helps individuals and groups develop refined sensing and listening, shed what no longer serves, and dynamically steward greater creative energy in their lives and companies. Her work weaves 10+ years of experience in the diverse fields of leadership coaching, organizational culture consulting, ecosystems science, strategy design, holistic healing/wellness, ceremony, somatic intimacy coaching, and wilderness survival. She’s worked with hundreds of leaders across startups and the Fortune 100, and is based in San Francisco.
As change agents, within or outside of organizations, attendees of Responsive Conference are those most responsible for other’s transformation. Onstage at this year’s conference, Larissa will invite us to consider our own blind spots, and the taboos we are failing to address that keep us from doing our best work.
Show Notes 3:00 Thinking and sensing 7:30 Physical injuries and emotional challenges
9:45 Wayfinding 13:00 Moved by feeling 17:30 Minimum amount of challenge for maximum change 19:15 Rite of passage 23:45 Larissa’s personal rituals 26:30 Beginnings and endings 30:00 Closing a meeting 31:15 What is going on culturally 36:30 Tensions coming to the surface 42:00 Unique voice
I hope you enjoy this talk from Responsive Conference 2016 with former Navy SEAL and New York Times best-selling author Chris Fussell (@fussellchris) alongside Rachel Mendelowitz (@rachelowitz) as they discuss “Team of Teams” and new ways of organizing companies of the future.
Alongside General Stan McChrystal, Chris runs the McChrystal Group – an organizational design consultancy that works with companies all over the world to do in industry what Stan, Chris and the US Military did during the Iraq War. In the book Teams of Teams, Stanley McChrystal and Chris outline how they took the special operations branch of the US Military – a stereotypically bureaucratic organization – and transformed it into a adaptive, agile system.
This video was recorded at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016.
I’m very pleased to share, exclusively for this podcast, a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it out in podcast form.
Here’s an excerpt. Subscribe and listen to The Robin Zander Show for the full chapter!
…as the pace of change accelerates, the challenges we face are becoming less and less predictable. Those practices that were so successful in the past are counter-productive in less predictable environments. In contrast, Responsive Organizations are designed to thrive in less predictable environments…
— Responsive Org Manifesto
The world is changing more rapidly than we have ever seen before in human history. According to 2012 estimates, members of the S&P 500 were expected on average to remain in the index for only eighteen years, compared to the sixty-one years they might have expected in 1958. The anticipated lifespan of companies has dropped dramatically over the last few decades.
We also see this in the rise of the ridesharing industry—Lyft and Uber, among others—which was enabled by the proliferation of smartphones. This new industry seized a large part of the taxi market, which previously had been considered stable, if not untouchable. Similarly, the rise of home sharing—and most notably, AirBNB—was made possible by the hyper-connectivity of the Internet Age, and disrupted the traditional hotel industry.
Another example of the changing nature of the business landscape is the 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon.com. The day the acquisition was announced, Whole Foods stock rocketed almost 30%, while the value of competitors in the grocery business dropped precipitously. The presumption, it seems, is that disruption of the grocery industry is now inevitable.
There’s a broad lesson in the emergence of ride sharing, home sharing, and the Whole Foods acquisition—which is that any organization or industry is liable to be shaken up at any moment. The goal of every company in the 21st century should be to become resilient, flexible, and have the capacity to respond to inevitable change. Industries, today, can change with unprecedented speed.
If you’ve enjoyed Chapter 2 of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.
Here’s an excerpt. Subscribe and listen to The Robin Zander Show for the full chapter!
On the Shoulders of Giants
Responsive has been built on a community of which I am just a single member.
I am grateful to the six people wrote the Responsive Org manifesto, and began a movement: Adam Pisoni, Aaron Dignan, Matthew Partovi, Mike Arauz, Steve Hopkins and Alexis Gonzales-Black. They put words to a problem faced by organizations today and gave us a language to describe the challenges and tensions that have long existed in the workplace.
I would not have written this book without the friendship of Steve Hopkins, who taught me how to run an un-conference, and the handful of collaborators with whom I produced my first Responsive events.
I’m indebted to the fifty-plus leaders who I’ve interviewed on my podcast, The Robin Zander Show, who described big ideas like non-hierarchy and holacracy in simple language and gave me hope that I could write a book to do the same.
How To Use This Book
My career path has never followed a traditional route. My first job out of college was as a management consultant, with a gig as a circus performer nights and weekends. Of course, I couldn’t tell the consulting company that I was in the circus, but I also couldn’t admit to my fellow circus artists that I wore a suit to work. I am not content to live in such a binary world. I want to live in a world that encourages the full expression of every individual, and I am dedicated to building it. Improving the ways we work seems like a great place to start.
Responsive is a compilation of tactics and accompanying short stories about innovators on the front lines of the future of work. It is designed to be a choose-your-own-adventure exploration into how we work in the modern era, the approaches and perspectives employed by high performing organizations, and what makes those methods so effective.
While this book can be read cover to cover, I have designed it so that you can jump to those sections most interesting or relevant to you right now. Ultimately Responsive is intended as a reference guide as much as a road map—a resource you can return to again and again as you dive deeper into Responsive and the future of work.
A Responsive Café
I have a vested interest in discovering what works for myself and my small team. Throughout this book, I’ll share stories about my small business, a coffee shop in San Francisco, where I work with my ten-person staff to serve coffee and avocado toast and to build community.
I founded “Robin’s Café” in late April 2016, with no prior experience as a restaurateur but armed with a clear purpose: to foster a nascent community that I knew could exist in our corner of San Francisco. We had exactly three weeks from inception to opening day, so, unsurprisingly, our first week of operations was a mess. Attendees of a conference I had organized on site wanted to support the café, creating a bona fide lunch rush on our very first day.
In those early weeks, we were a team of four, often making up recipes on the spot to cover orders. I look back on those times now, after having a tough day, and realize that no matter how terrible things might seem, it will never be as chaotic and insane as those first few weeks.
We desperately needed additional staff. One day, a man named Frank quietly dropped off his resume during our usual morning rush. I was up to my elbows managing an exploding keg of cold brew. But even in the midst of a coffee emergency, it quickly became clear that Frank was professional, playful, and knowledgeable about the food service industry. I hired him, and he soon became indispensable at the café.
On May 20, 2016, Frank had been scheduled to open the café. Around 9:30 a.m., I got a call that Frank hadn’t shown up. “Was he sick?” I wondered. I checked to see if he’d sent me any messages, but there were none. I called him, but it went to voicemail. A week later, I sent an email, mostly in jest, with the subject, “Are you still alive?” The staff and I just assumed that Frank became a “no call, no show,” something not uncommon in the service industry. Frank’s cutting contact was a simple case of job abandonment. Still, it somehow didn’t seem like Frank, and I wanted to make sure he was okay. I tracked down his brother on social media and messaged him. I heard nothing for several days.
Then, out of the blue, Frank’s brother called me. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” I remember him saying, “My brother is dead. He was hit and killed by a train.” In that moment of shock, while I digested what I’d just heard, Frank’s brother went on: “I want you to know how happy he was to be working at Robin’s Café.”
Frank’s death is a constant reminder to me of how truly transient and changeable business—and life—can be. As a small business owner in those first few weeks, I had to be resilient, not just in my response to Frank’s death, but to be able to mentor and support those at our café and in the community who knew him. I was determined to build into the ethos of our organization this realization that circumstances can change in an instant. I wanted my team to be resilient when times got tough and grateful for the days when work felt more like play. I like to think that in some way this commitment to resilience and good humor is a small homage to Frank.
That same ethos is what has compelled me to write this book and to share just some of the ways that ground-breaking organizations and individuals are exploring human-centered work. This book is an invitation to see the value of Responsive approaches and bring them into your organization as fits your vision and culture.
If you’ve enjoyed Chapter 1 of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.
This video was recorded live at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016. Come see Adam Pisoni live again this year at the 3rd Annual Responsive Conference on September 24 and 25, 2018 in Queens, New York.
Adam Pisoni (@adampisoni) co-founded Yammer (which sold to Microsoft for 1.2 billion dollars). He recounts how he learned about about Conway’s law. “At Yammer, we believed in rapid product iteration. Once we realized the organizational structure was part of the product, we then had to believe in rapid organization iteration.” The engineering mantra at Yammer became: “We’re not smarter than other people. We just iterate faster.”
This insight led Adam to recognize that he and the engineering and product teams at Yammer were not just building a product but building a company (at least, if they were going to be effective). He began to investigate what it would mean not just to rapidly iterate on Yammer’s product but to iterate the organization’s structure itself.
In other words, he began to explore whether Yammer could become more Responsive. What Adam was clear on, was that their product didn’t exist in isolation. Yammer, as a communication platform for enterprise businesses, was particularly well placed to recognize the challenges of the current working world. Eventually, Adam put these thoughts into a manifesto and shared them with CEOs and C-level executives. The response was an enthusiastic affirmation of their ideas. The result of this thinking led Adam to co-found the Responsive Org movement.
Experiments in Education
Adam realized the education system in North America is largely still reliant on an assembly-model way of teaching and thinking. Consider the structure of most schools: there are grades, segregated by age; there are alarm bells which tell students when to move from one classroom to the next. The most common form of learning is to passively sit and absorb lectured lessons.
More subtly, subjects are taught according to a linear progression. Math education in the United States, for example, moves from algebra, to geometry, to advanced algebra, to precalculus, to calculus. This progression to trains students to think about math in a way that only entrenches a hierarchical, linear view of how to how the world works. School in the 21st Century is still designed to produce people to work in factories.
Adam was bold enough to tackle revitalizing the education system, by optimizing administrators’ time and budgets. He founded Abl Schools, a collaborative platform for administrators and teachers. Abl has re-envisioned how principals relate with their teachers and facilities and how schools use their time. The idea is to help schools better manage the day-to-day to be able to achieve its educational goals, starting with the company’s first product, a cloud-based master scheduler.
Exciting possibilities emerge when we reconsider even behemoth institutions like the U.S. education system and experiment with new approaches that leverage technology and new models of collaborating. What is necessary, is the willingness to experiment.
A Diverse Founding Team
Adam Pisoni has been open about the challenges of creating diversity in founding his company Abl Schools. He writes:
“If your founding team is homogenous, it will likely develop a narrow culture which is well suited for that narrow group of people. That culture won’t be as self-aware of the lack of inclusion in the culture, but it will feel inclusive for everyone within the tight knit founding team. As new employees with different backgrounds join, they will be more likely to reject or be rejected from the culture than to add to it. While you may be celebrating how strong a culture and tight a team you have, you may also be unaware of the ways you’re actually reminding that new employee that they don’t belong.”
While there is a lot of conversation about fostering an inclusive company culture, very few Silicon Valley companies have an equal gender split between male and female employees, and even fewer have women or underrepresented groups at the highest levels of leadership.
As Adam explains, this doesn’t actually mean teams of straight white men can’t produce great companies. He argues: “I believe diverse founding teams can produce better outcomes. A team of white men can come up with good ideas. But I believe a diverse team can come up with better ones.” The curiosity and perseverance Adam has demonstrated at Abl Schools is an example of what can be done in any number of genres by founders just starting out.
If you enjoyed this episode of the Robin Zander Show, you might also enjoy hearing me and Adam in conversation, recorded at the Responsive book launch party last November.
At Responsive Conference 2018, Adam will be joined onstage by Anthony Kim (Founder, Education Elements) to dive deeply into the problems facing our current educational practices, and what can be done to improve them.
Bob has advised leaders at numerous companies—including GE, Ford, Chanel, and Spotify—in creating more effective organizations. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management, is a Certified Positive Psychology Practitioner, and speaks and publishes regularly on what it takes to build great organizations.
Bob is the author of the new book “Getting to Hell Yes”, along with his wife Alexandra Jamieson, and together they will be leading a workshop at Responsive Conference 2018 on generative conversations that will change your business (and the rest of your life).
This video was recorded at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016.
I hope you enjoy this talk with Jennifer Dennard from Responsive Conference 2016. Jennifer is the co-founder of Range Labs and the former Head of People and Culture at Medium, focusing on organization design, people operations, and diversity & inclusion.
Jennifer is passionate about helping teams work together better. In this talk, Jennifer talks about human resources and a future of work that is best for our employees.
I’m pleased to share this talk at Responsive Conference 2017 with Charles Best (@CharlesBest), founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org.
Charles Best is an American philanthropist and entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding platform for K-12 teachers serving in US schools.
Charles launched the organization out of a Bronx public high school where he taught history. DonorsChoose.org is one of Oprah Winfrey’s “ultimate favorite things” and was named by Fast Company as one of the “50 Most Innovative Companies in the World.”
This video was recorded at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in New York City in 2017. Learn more: http://responsiveconference.com
I’m pleased to share this talk at Responsive Conference 2017 with Steve Hopkins (@stevehopkins), Director of Customer Success at Culture Amp and a founding member of the Responsive Org movement.
Steve is passionate about helping clients develop a responsive operating culture that they can be proud of. At Culture Amp, Steve does this by guiding clients through successful culture change programs using the Culture Amp HR and People Analytics platform.
I’m pleased to share this talk at Responsive Conference 2017 with Meg Poe, professor at New York University.
Megan Poe is a psychiatrist and interpersonal psychoanalyst who teaches one of New York University’s most popular and fastest-growing classes. Her topic? Love! At this year’s Responsive Conference, she’ll explore with us what it takes to live, love, and work well.
In addition to her professorship at NYU, Meg has a private practice in New York City. Meg’s mission is to help people feel most present and alive in their creative flow and inner life. She specializes in helping adults create more-intimate, fulfilling relationships in their lives and work.
I’m pleased to share this keynote address by my friend Aaron Dignan (@aarondignan), founder of The Ready, at Responsive Conference 2017.
Aaron Dignan sees the same phenomenon everywhere he looks. Our most trusted and important institutions – in business, healthcare, government, philanthropy, and beyond – are struggling. They’re confronted with the fact that the scale and bureaucracy that once made them strong are liabilities in an era of constant change.
Aaron is the founder of The Ready and a founding member of the Responsive Org movement.
This talk was recorded live at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in September 2017. We’re gearing up for Responsive Conference 2018, and excited to have The Ready leading an interactive Teaming simulation.
I am so excited for today’s interview with two guests. Today we are speaking with Anthony Kim (@Anthonx), the founder and CEO of Education Elements, as well as Alexis Gonzales-Black (@Gonzalesblack), a former guest on the podcast and speaker at Responsive Conference.
1:30 How Anthony and Alexis met 4:30 Holacracy at Education Elements 7:00 Check ins and check outs 9:00 Balancing tensions 12:15 Assumptions versus known facts 14:15 Alexis’ background in education 15:30 Recruitment and retention 17:45 Inefficient processes in education 24:00 Team of teams autonomy 27:15 Tailor Responsive concepts to fit your personal teams 30:00 Sharing information transparently 32:30 School structures have not revolutionized enough 36:00 The New School Rules book structure 38:00 Planning and predicting 42:15 How to make change with mini experiments 45:15 Creating better work conditions for teachers 49:30 Safe enough to try 52:30 Contact Alexis and Anthony: Website: The New School Rules Amazon: The New School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools – If you like the book, please leave a review! Linkedin: Alexis and Anthony Twitter: Alexis, Anthony, The New School Rules Anthony’s Website: Education Elements Alexis’ Website: Thoughtful Org
If you enjoyed this interview you’ll also enjoy my first interview with Alexis Gonzales-Black, where we discussed her backstory, rolling out Holacracy at Zappos and much more.
Mark and I share a common background in the performing arts, and it was fun for me to hear how Mark has taken that background and applied it to his entrepreneurial efforts both at his gyms and as a consultant. As someone who has long thought of creating a gym or physical center, I loved this conversation. Even more so, though, Mark’s passion for culture and people shone through.
I’m also pleased to share that Mark Fisher is going to be one of our speakers at Responsive Conference 2018, which will be taking place on September 24th and 25th in New York City. Pick up a ticket to hear him speak live.
I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did!
Show Notes 3:30 Balancing ridiculousness at Mark Fisher Fitness 9:15 Starting a fitness business 12:30 Combining creativity with vision execution 15:00 Business for Unicorns 19:45 Soft skills in hard systems and the Unicorn Society 22:00 Current state of fitness 26:00 Advice for building a gym 31:00 Books:
Organizing events is a community effort, especially events as open to interpretation as an un-conference. I first sat down with a small group interested in Responsive Org events in 2015. Of that initial group Steve Hopkins was a founding member of the Responsive Org movement, Dori Rutkevitz was an active organizer in the related Reinventing Organizations community, and all of us were enthusiastic to learn more. Steve’s initial proposal to organize an un-conference was met with enthusiastic support by everyone at the table, followed promptly by “What’s an Un-conference?”
In the two years following that first meeting, I have produced and directed more than a dozen un-conferences and several more formal events. This short article is the playbook I wish I’d had when I began organizing events.
What is an Un-conference
An un-conference is any event where the agenda is set by those who attend. The rules of an un-conference are simple:
Rule #1: Whoever shows up are the right people
Rule #2: Whatever happens is fine
Rule #3: Whenever it starts is the right time
Rule #4: It is over when it’s over
In less flowery language this just means ditch expectation and don’t try to control the experience.
Flow of the Day
After attendees arrive, an empty conference agenda is posted on the wall with time slots and a variety of meeting spaces. Leaders share a theme or question they would like to discuss and post it in a time slot. If you post a topic, it is your responsibility to turn up to that session and introduce your topic or question. If you are not hosting a session, you are free to attend whichever of the sessions you are interested in.
Attendees are encouraged to adopt any of a number of roles:
Leader — who is facilitating each breakout
Scribe — is someone responsible for taking notes for each group
Nomads — give attendees permission to move between break-outs
The Law of Two Feet
Everyone at an un-conference is encouraged to practice the law of two feet. The law of two feet says that if you become uninterested at any point, you are encouraged to leave and join another session. In an un-conference you are also invited to take breaks at any time, with the idea that it is sometimes in the breaks that the ‘A-ha’ moments arrive.
Roles & Responsibilities
There are three main components necessary to a successful event — recruiting, production, and a strong facilitator.
A Word on Recruiting
In my experience, it is helpful to have an extended network to help with recruiting, not just a single person. All other logistics can be handled by a single person.
Among the organizers, someone has to be in charge of logistics, including:
— Venue sourcing and on-going communication
— Setting the date
— Attendee arrival emails
— Day-of logistics
A strong facilitator can make or break any event, but especially one with as fluid an agenda as an un-conference. Facilitator on the day of the event. It is essential to have one strong facilitator overseeing each un-conference, to welcome attendees and provide context for the event.
How to Facilitate an Un-Conference
Here are some tips, most learned the hard way over hundreds of hours of practice in the last two years.
1. Stay Centered
Despite having spent a fair amount of time on stage, I found myself getting nervous and feeling rushed in the hours leading up to a day-long un-conference. My single biggest piece of advice for a facilitator is to arrive with plenty of time to spare so you won’t feel rushed. You are responsible for the framework within which the attendee experience takes place. As such, staying grounded and centered is the single most important thing you can provide, even though in the moment it may feel like it is more important to make sure the space is set up or the coffee is ready.
2. Don’t Participate
This one might seem odd. It can seem like the entire point of organizing an event is to participate. In my experience, doing so decreases the ease with which I was able to coordinate new sessions, lead an end-of-day wrap-up, and refocus attendees when necessary.
In my view, the facilitator of the un-conference is there in service to the attendees. I have found it gets in the way of the attendee experience to actively participate in sessions and workshops that occur throughout the day.
The facilitator should practice before the beginning of the un-conference. Review these guidelines for a successful un-conference and be able to describe un-conference rules from memory. Practice your welcome speech.
4. Incorporate movement
I have always found it very useful to incorporate movement into events. When we have short periods of movement interspersed with other kinds of learning, we shortcut the passive sit-and-absorb tendencies we all learned through the education system, and which have carried over into most events. Read this article on the importance of movement within events.
Events are a lot of work, and sometime I have learned to produce of necessity. However, in this hyperactive digital age, I’m convinced of the value of what Tony Hsieh calls “spontaneous collisions” — the value of people spontaneously cross paths. If you’re considering putting on an event of your own, I encourage you to do so. When we create a container — an event or gathering — we create the opportunity for emergent possibilities to fill the open space.